215. The Rolling Stones – Paint It, Black (1966)

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1965 had been a phenomenal year for the Rolling Stones, and saw them established as the biggest rivals to the Beatles for the pop crown, despite the nihilism of rock classics (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction and Get Off of My Cloud. That December they began work on their fourth album Aftermath. Originally conceived as the soundtrack to an abandoned film, the Stones had much more time than usual to work on this album, and it showed. For the first time they released an album feauring songs only written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, and they experimented with their sound. Featuring Mother’s Little Helper, Lady Jane, Under My Thumb and Out of Time, it’s easily their best album up to this point and perhaps their best to date.

Recorded during the same sessions in March 1966, and released as the opening track of the US version of Aftermath, Paint It, Black took the Rolling Stones into new territory, and remains a real stand-out track.

Initially it had been written with a standard rock-pop arrangement, and lyrically Jagger was continuing on the dark path of their previous two singles, but this time his disgust with the world had a reason. I only recently realised Paint It, Black specifically relates to a loved one’s sudden death, rather than general malaise and depression. Of course it was there, right in front of me, from the very start, if I’d taken proper notice of Jagger’s lyrics. The ‘line of cars and they are painted black’ refers to the funeral, and ‘I could not forsee this thing happening to you’ suggests how unexpected the death was. Something the band were to experience themselves soon… Although Jagger has never said who the song refers to, many believe it concerns a soldier in Vietnam, which is backed up by Stanley Kubrick playing it over the credits of Full Metal Jacket in 1987.

Fooling around with the song in the studio, Bill Wyman played on the organ and Charlie Watts improvised a double-time drum beat that became the song’s distinctive, unusual gallop. The band decided this rhythm would make a nice counterpoint to the bleak lyrics.

The key ingredient that elevates Paint It, Black to a classic, however, came from Brian Jones. Frustrated with his decline in importance to the band, and with Jagger and Richards now in charge, he began experimenting with new instruments and sounds. To compliment the new Moroccan feel to the song, he laid sitar over the top. Inspired by George Harrison, he was taught by Harihar Rao, a disciple of Ravi Shankar. The Beatles get all the credit for popularising the sitar, but Paint It, Black was one of the first pop songs to do so too, and the best for the time being. The whole band put in excellent performances, from Richards’ flamenco opening to the finale, in which Wyman goes crazy on the bass.

Released on 13 May, Paint It, Black quickly knocked the sunshine of Pretty Flamingo from the top of the pops, and cast a dark cloud over the optimism of the spring and summer of 1966. A world away from their early blues tracks, it proved the Rolling Stones could be just as effective at experimenting as the Beatles. It’s easily one of their greatest tracks, and one of the best number 1s of the 60s. However, the Rolling Stones began to hit a rocky patch after its release, and controversy and further experimentation led to their popularity sliding and tragedy. Paint It, Black was their last number 1 until 1968.

And why did the title have that strange comma, adding emphasis on ‘Black’? A further sign of the darkness enveloping the group? No. It was just an error by Decca Records.

Written by: Mick Jagger & Keith Richards

Producer: Andrew Loog Oldham

Weeks at number 1: 1 (26 May-1 June)

Births:

Actress Helena Bonham Carter – 26 May

205. The Rolling Stones – Get Off of My Cloud (1965)

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In the autumn of 1965 the situation in Rhodesia degenerated so much that martial law was announced on 5 November. The UN General Assembly accepted British intent to use force if neccessary. Six days later, Ian Smith’s white majority regime unilaterally declared independence, and so on 20 November the UN Security Council recommended that all states should cease trading with Rhodesia.

Meanwhile in the pop world, Ken Dodd’s Tears was finally usurped after five weeks at the top, with a song that couldn’t be more different. The Rolling Stones were at number 1 for the third time that year with the racucous Get Off of My Cloud.

Adored by young people and critics and feared by the older generation, the Stones were now on a par with the Beatles, but rather than make the move into establishment acceptance, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards decided to write a sequel to their previous number 1, (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. The alienation felt by Jagger was the theme once more, and it seems his band’s superstardom hadn’t improved the singer’s general mood. Richards based the tune on the Kingsmen’s classic Louie Louie and later expressed regret that Get Off of My Cloud hadn’t been slowed down. He also said it was one of Andrew Loog Oldham’s worst productions.

I’ve said before that I think a lot of early Stones recordings would have benefitted from cleaner production, but I’m not sure I agree with Richards in this instance. I think Oldham’s work around the time of Aftermath (1966) suits the darker, early-psychedelic material the Stones were coming out with, particuarly on tracks like this and Have You Seen Your Mother Baby, Standing in the Shadow? Although it would be nice to actually be able to work out what Jagger is shouting about. And I realise by typing that sentence I sound like the sort of person who would have been furious in 1965 that the Rolling Stones had knocked Ken Dodd from number 1…

Jagger is living high up on the 99th floor of an apartment block, and the first verse follows right on from (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, with the singer complaining about commercialism through advertising. However, he wrongfoots everyone by spending the next verse complaining about the noise coming from his neighbours until the early hours. Jagger isn’t on anybody’s side here other than his own. And what’s more, he’s so bloody rich, he can afford to go for some peace and quiet and end up with loads of parking tickets. Couldn’t give a shit as long as he’s left alone. And so we have the most mean-spirited chart-topper so far, and you’ve got to admire the Rolling Stones for their chutzpah. Their stand-offishness only made them more admired.

Also in the news that November… The Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act suspended capital punishment for murder in England, Scotland and Wales, for five years in the first instance, replacing it with a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment. And on 13 November the word ‘fuck’ was believed to have been spoken on British television for the first time by theatre critich Kenneth Tynan. He was taking part in a live debate on censorship on BBC Two satirical series BBC-3. No recording exists of the occurence, but despite general opinion that it was Tynan, three other moments could also be considered the first: a drunken Brendan Brehan on Panorama in 1956 (barely intelligible muttering), a man who painted railings describing his job as ‘fucking boring’ on Ulster TV’s magazine Roundabout in 1959, or actress Miriam Margolyes, who claims to have said it in frustration while taking part in ITV’s University Challenge in 1963. But really, who gives a fuck?

Written by: Mick Jagger & Keith Richards

Producer: Andrew Loog Oldham

Weeks at number 1: 3 (4-24 November)

Births:

Actor Shaun Williamson – 4 November
Comedian Sean Hughes – 10 November Sean Hughes, comedian (died 2017)
Northern Irish racecar driver Eddie Irvine – 10 November
Presenter Eddie Mair – 12 November

Deaths:

Academic Ifor Williams – 4 November
Politician George Henry Hall – 8 November